Located in Bunnell, Fla., Flagler Schools serves nearly 13,000 students across the district’s 10 schools—five elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and one virtual school—and our 2,500 teachers, administrators and other staff comprise the largest workforce in Flagler County.
A few years ago, leaders from Flagler Schools realized that students from across our district were struggling. Literacy scores were below target for elementary and middle school students, and high school graduation rates were not meeting expectations. We took a whole-district approach and developed four key initiatives to better align K-8 assessment and instruction and improve high school graduation rates.
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Recognizing that literacy is tied to our students’ overall success across all educational subjects and grade levels, we took a two-step approach to remediation, aimed primarily at elementary and middle school students. In addition to our focus on literacy, we also narrowed our student outreach efforts at the high school level to focus on acceleration and graduation.
Together, the four initiatives included the following:
1. Improving literacy instruction: As part of our district’s focus on improving reading scores, we introduced i-Ready across grades K-8 for language arts instruction in the beginning of the 2016 school year. Since then, i-Ready has become a key component of our blended, data-driven approach to literacy instruction, resulting in strong increases in student achievement across grade levels; for example, literacy achievement increased from 56 percent to 61 percent proficiency from 2016-2019. In our elementary schools, we have successfully zeroed in on developing students’ phonemic awareness and phonics skills to build a strong foundation for literacy growth, while focusing on vocabulary development and higher-level comprehension—skills we continue to target through middle school and beyond.
2. Developing an effective early warning system: In addition to streamlining our literacy instruction, we began providing proactive check points that would allow us to identify students in need of additional support. Prior to 2016, teachers, on different campuses and within the same school, were using a variety of tools to evaluate student progress, resulting in an unsystematic collection of student data at the classroom, school and district levels. Today, teachers administer the i-Ready Diagnostic three times per year to gather detailed information on students’ strengths and weaknesses to both drive classroom instruction and differentiate learning. District administrators, principals, literacy coaches, and teachers scrutinize student data throughout the school year to align efforts and identify students in need of additional support.
3. Providing opportunities for acceleration to all students: For the past two years, we have worked to create touchpoints with every high school senior to understand their post-graduation goals and align opportunities to work toward those during their senior year. To be successful, we knew we had to encourage participation from all students, and, in doing so, developed opportunities for early exposure to college courses, as well as career and technical education (CTE). Both of our high schools offer dual-enrollment opportunities with local colleges. Students can also earn industry certifications through our CTE courses and partnerships with local businesses. Our focus on accelerated tracks ensures that all students are prepared for success in college, trade school, and/or the job market.
4. Increasing graduation rates: Mentoring programs have proved extremely valuable for improving our high school graduation rate, allowing school and district leaders to increase the amount of support and contact with students who were at risk of not graduating due to failing grades. Leveraging iFlagler, our virtual school, we now offer a variety of credit-recovery programs, from self-directed course recovery to more time-intensive, focused programs that offer in-school guidance for students to earn credits for the courses required for graduation. Today, as a result of these initiatives and others, we have an 88 percent graduation rate, a significant increase from previous years.
How we turned around literacy instruction and student outreach
This coordinated district-wide focus played a key role in Flagler Schools earning an ‘A grade’ at the end of the 2018-19 school year for the first time in eight years. Here’s what we learned through the process.
● Keep your focus limited. Every campus initiative across the district tied back to one or more of our four primary goals. This helped keep our focus narrow and eliminated multiple layers being added.
● Promote accountability at all levels. We engaged district and school leaders in every building and across our professional learning communities (PLCs) to work together to understand and develop programming in support of the four goals. This helped provide buy-in from the entire district, including administrators, coaches, teachers, and students.
● Make data-informed decisions. Programs like i-Ready allow our teachers to make specific instructional decisions to improve learning outcomes for every student. The ability to capture and use student data in real time was instrumental in our literacy gains.